Travelers follow Jo Daviess County's sprawling fields and undulating hills toward Massbach Ridge Winery’s 18+ acre estate. Founded by the Harmston family in 2003, the winery’s proprietors select grapes grown in Jo Daviess County to concoct their batches of reds and whites. Members of the winery family escort guests on impromptu tours before rendezvousing in the tasting room or on the patio for samplings. The outdoor patio grants a heightened view of the vineyards below, which visitors can wander through on quests for vine-ripe copies of The Grapes of Wrath. In addition to its frequent tastings and tour sessions, Massbach Ridge Winery hosts a number of wine-related events each year.
Situated inside a renovated historical building, Northleaf Winery pays tribute to the location?s agricultural past while bottling more than a dozen wines. Fragrant samples of peppery zinfandel and floral pinot grigio are poured at the wooden tasting bar, which hosts open tastings and private pairings of wine and artisanal chocolates or cheese. Next door, the bistro and market stocks a tempting selection of Wisconsin cheeses and party trays, along with fresh salads and build-your-own grilled sandwiches with included blueprints.
More than a century ago in Sicily, a man named Michael Vetrano began making wine?a hobby much appreciated by the friends and family who sipped his creations. Today, great grandson Bill Vetrano continues the family tradition at Vetro Winery. Bill and his team transform Wisconsin grapes into dry, semi-dry, and sweet reds and whites. During visits to the tasting room, guests can pair sips with bites of chocolate and cheese, take in sweeping views of the woods and marshland, or try their hand on a pair of vintage pinball machines. Indulging in these wine tastings also benefits the community at large, as the Vetrano family donates funds to support the Special Olympics.
A lot has changed for the Spahn family over the years. Starting out as a vineyard that strictly grew grapes for nearby wineries, Rocky Waters Vineyard?established by Jared and Phyllis Spahn in 1994?soon became much more. From their 112 acres, they now harvest 25 to create 14 varietals throughout the year. Working with guidance from local winemaker Philippe Coquard, the Spahns have crafted their own wines since 2004. They range in style from the full-bodied Homestead red to the sweet, fruity Cedar Lakes blush.
Just past the glowing sand bars of the Lower Wisconsin River Valley, 80 acres of fertile hillsides present the ideal spot for winemakers at Weggy Winery to produce their award-winning vintages. With 30 different labels, the wines range from a sweet apple-and-black-currant dessert wine to a dry, clean white traminette to a smooth, red sabrevois. The Oak Ridge red, made from Wisconsin foch grapes, recently took home a gold medal from a California wine competition and a handwritten letter from a Sheboygan-area grandma who?s convinced that bottle messages are the most efficient way to send mail.
Visitors can sample the estate-grown wine in the winery?s tasting room, a sun-drenched space overlooking the vineyard. During the summer, groups can tour the acreage in the back of a tractor-pulled tram during a one-hour guided excursion which highlights the property?s 16 acres, out of 24 total acres, of cherry, asian pear, and apple orchards, the property?s 11,000 grape vines, and the spot where aliens once stopped for a brief but memorable picnic.
To winemaker Alwyn Fitzgerald, The Fisher King isn't just a medieval legend; he represents a way of life. According to Arthurian myth, as the wounded Fisher King grew stronger in the spring and into the summer, so did the surrounding land and harvest. Inspired by this relationship between man and Earth, Alwyn founded Fisher King Winery in spite of the Midwest's temperamental climate. There, he hand-processes the local, cold-hardy grapes that give his small-batch wines a light yet complex flavor profile. His decision to use mostly Midwestern grapes in his winemaking process has certainly paid off: his Blue Rapture white wine won a gold medal at the U.S. National Wine Competition, as well as a Best of Class and double-gold award at the International Eastern Wine Competition in 2013.
Outside of Fisher King Winery, a hanging sign with gold letters depicts the company's mythological namesake. Inside, large windows provide a glimpse of the tanks and pipes in the production area, where Alwyn and his family produce their award-winning Blue Rapture wine, alongside other dry-to-sweet red and white varietals. The tasting room's hardwood bar and tables give visitors a place to sip popular wines by the flight, glass, or bottle, and nibble on local artisan cheeses. Fisher King Winery also hosts regular live performances from local and regional musicians.